Commemorations of Past Wrongs

A while back I had written a piece on the glorification of revisionist history. It primarily focused on Confederate memorials in the US, and was capped off by a statue to the Second Boer War in Ottawa. Since writing that piece, things have come to a head in the US, and here in Canada.

Local governments are beginning to pay attention to these statues, and some are making efforts to remove them to stave off potential protests. As I noted, the revisionists and pseudo-historians are loudly putting up a fuss, and claiming their heritage and history are being erased. This is hardly the case, as many of these statues were put up in the 20th century, during the Jim Crow era. Their intended purpose was to intimidate the black population, and remind them of whose history was ultimately more important.

Now Canada has its share of questionable statues and memorials spread out across the country. Some steps are being taken to fix this, to an extent.

In my native city of Halifax, there is a statue dedicated to Edward Cornwallis. In 1749, the British officially ‘founded’ Halifax, with Cornwallis. Cornwallis signed into effect laws that put bounties on Indigenous scalps. Nearly three hundred years later, those laws are still on Nova Scotia’s books, as ridiculous as that sounds. A statue of him was erected in 1931, on public land.

On Canada Day, Indigenous activists met at the statue, and were confronted by white supremacist counter-protesters. The counter-protesters displayed a lack of basic knowledge of the Treaties their province is beholden to. The Mi’kmaq had entered into Peace and Friendship Treaties with Great Britain, and as such, never ceded any of their territory. Britain, and subsequently Canada, essentially illegally took control of land and denied Indigenous peoples the rights they were entitled to. The entire province of Nova Scotia is thus unceded land, and the white supremacists don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to Indigenous Peoples protesting how public land is used. If they were concerned about the preservation of history, and heritage, they would have taken the time to do the most basic of cursory research prior to embarrassing themselves.

This casual dismissal of Indigenous concerns is a pattern one notes running throughout Canadian history. Certain attitudes are ingrained within society, and it has led to ethically questionable material put on display. One can wave their hand, and dismiss such things as stemming from the past, where attitudes were different from today, but that would be erroneous. Up until this week, a carousel in Montreal featured a cowboy horse that included a decapitated “Indian head”. These attitudes aren’t constrained to this past, nor are they restricted to trollish comments on Canadian media postings. They are here now, and they need to be confronted.